Life On Board


Whether you were a New York businessman, opera singer, teacher, colonial official or soldier on leave, all passengers looking to fill the long days at sea could enjoy the recreation and entertainment activities offered on board. As the decades passed, the range of activities offered by the companies grew and widely differed according to passenger class and shipping line. From traditional deck games, such as shuffle-board or deck tennis, to clay pigeon shooting or swimming, not to mention relaxing on the famous Transat deck chairs, there was plenty to do on deck—if the weather allowed. Inside, stewards organized concerts, bridge tournaments and film screenings, while some passengers preferred to browse the library or boutiques on board.


Gourmet cooking was a highly regarded specialty among French shipping companies and held a prominent place in life on board these vessels. From breakfast to dinner, including soup at 11:00 a.m. and late afternoon tea, the kitchen staff had to satisfy the appetite of every passenger. The refined cuisine that made French shipping lines famous, especially the French Line company, took pride of place in the luxurious dining rooms on board vessels. Popular gathering spots, these dining rooms allowed first-class passengers to see and, more importantly, to be seen.

Services On Board

Passengers could avail of a myriad of services on board the biggest vessels, which catered to all requests and dispelled any concerns. Manicurists, hairdressers and barbers were on hand to ensure that passengers looked their best and stood out during gala dinners. Parents could relax while their little ones were taken care of by nannies. Shipping companies even built special dining and games rooms for child passengers. The height of luxury, French Line did not forget pets. A dog kennel was available to passengers where dedicated staff made sure pets were walked every day. They even had a menu specially prepared by the chefs.

Ship Staff

A commanding presence on board, the captain was an iconic and charismatic figure in the Merchant Navy who directed a team of highly qualified staff that carried out their duties within the various services. This included the deck and machinery department, which were essential to the smooth running of the vessel. The former controlled navigation, security and maintained facilities; while the latter was responsible for the ship’s propulsion and technical equipment. The “civil”  or “general” service, under the guidance of the ship’s purser, catered to passengers and was in charge of on-board hospitality, ranging from kitchens to dining rooms, as well as the reception and cabin service. The medical department was present on every ship and looked after the health of the staff and passengers. In order to expand their services on board larger vessels, companies called on professional experts such as hairstylists, musicians, photographers, etc. Priests, rabbis and ministers were also requested to ensure that religious services continued on board.

Notable Passengers

Before the emergence of air transportation, shipping lines were essential for traveling between one continent and another. Political or religious figures, artists, singers, actors of all nationalities, etc. everyone traveled on French ocean liners, who were renowned for providing excellent service and high-end hospitality. A genuine rivalry developed between companies in order to attract this glamorous clientèle, whose status enhanced their exposure and reputation.